Dalai Lama attends the International Buddhist Summit hosted by India

The Buddhist Channel, in collaboration with Buddhistdoor and IDN, 21 April 2023

New Delhi, India - The Dalai Lama on April 21 participated in a global Buddhist conference hosted by India. The Tibetan spiritual leader attended the second day of the event here and addressed delegates from 30 countries which include monks, Buddhist scholars and practitioners and heads of Buddhist organisations from across the globe.

The Union Culture Ministry and the International Buddhist Confederation, which are the organisers of the conference, had on Monday said that there was no confirmation on the Dalai Lama’s participation due to health issues. He has been at the centre of a controversy recently over a video with a minor boy, an incident for which he subsequently apologised.

Ven Dr Dhammapiya began by extending a warm welcome to His Holiness, esteemed guests, and the audience. He highlighted the previous day's discussions, which had covered various Buddhist traditions that have evolved worldwide. Comparing these traditions to different colored flowers that grow from the same stalk, which is the teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni, he emphasized that the Buddha gave different teachings to different people based on their capacity and location. He reminded the audience of verse 194 of the Dhammapada, which states the happiness derived from the emergence of a Buddha, the exposition of the Ariya Dhamma, harmony amongst the Sangha, and the practice of those in harmony.

Ven Dr Dhammapiya suggested that all Buddhist communities need to come forward and address the challenges faced by the world today. He highlighted that, as human beings, we are more similar than different from each other, sharing the same air and water. Hence, he encouraged a global perspective to promote world peace, protect the environment, and practice compassion. He emphasized the need to implement universal values implicit in all religious traditions to benefit everyone.

“Let’s join hands,” he said, “to work in harmonious unity to promote the Buddha’s teachings for the welfare and happiness of all sentient beings.”

Venerable Sayadaw Dr Ashin Nyanissara (Burma) was the next to be invited to speak, but was unable to attend in person. However, his message was conveyed to the audience, in which he emphasized the significance of nurturing a benevolent heart that embodies qualities of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

He observed that if people lack inner peace, it will be impossible to achieve peace in the world. Therefore, the only way to attain this peace is through practicing insight meditation, which helps to balance the mind. He further explained that cultivating compassion can transform a negative mindset into a positive one.

Prof Robert Thurman, a former student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, represented the academic study of Buddhism. Thurman began his address with a prayer to Avalokiteshvara, acknowledging his apprehension in speaking in front of His Holiness. He noted that His Holiness advocates for inner peace as a means of achieving world peace and that educating people in the methods to attain such serenity is essential.

Thurman also recalled Prime Minister Modi's statement during the summit that India has a history of commitment to 'ahimsa', or non-violence. This concept is vital in understanding why individuals may choose to die instead of taking life. Thurman further added that the Buddha came from a warrior family but abandoned that path to overcome the obscurations in his mind.

The approach to education developed by great Indian universities such as Nalanda allowed individuals to understand the nature of reality and how to transform the mind. The core curriculum of Nalanda has been preserved in monasteries such as Ganden, Drepung, and Sera, which have been re-established in South India.

Thurman stressed the importance of Buddhists engaging in discussion with scientists. He argued that the common scientific and materialistic view that we become nothing when we die is ethically problematic. If we become nothing at death, then it becomes easy to believe that we will not have to face the consequences of our actions. Instead, we must find ways to care for everyone, as Thurman concluded.

In his half an hour address at the summit, the Dalai Lama focused on the concepts of compassion, wisdom, and dependence origination as espoused by the Buddha. His Holiness spoke in Tibetan, which was translated into English by Dr Thupten Jinpa, and began by reciting a verse of salutation to Buddha Shakyamuni.

“One thing that defines the Buddha’s teaching,” His Holiness declared, “is his explanation of dependent arising. Of the two syllables of the Tibetan term for this, ‘ten-jung’, the first means dependent and the second, arising. This gives us an insight into reality. Everything is dependent. Nothing is independent. Things arise in dependence on other factors. Since nothing is independent, everything comes about through dependent relationships.

“Why is understanding dependent arising important? Because when we don’t have this insight, we grasp at self as something substantial and real. This in turn can lead to our drawing distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that feed conflict. We develop attachment to those like us and aversion to others who we see as different.

“Compassion too is at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. Chandrakirti indicates this when he pays homage to compassion at the opening of his ‘Entering into the Middle Way’. He compares compassion to a seed, to the moisture that allows the seed to grow and to the eventual fruit.

“The heart of the Buddha’s teaching is a combination of compassion and wisdom and as Buddhists our task is cultivate these two qualities.

“Many of the problems we face are to do with how we view reality. We tend to accept that things exist in the way they appear. We project a sense of reality onto what appears before us. The Buddha’s teaching of emptiness helps us see that what we perceive does not reflect reality. Then we can overcome our feelings of attachment and craving. And when we do that, the mind becomes pure.

“As Buddhists we need to pay attention to the process by which we grasp at the reality of things. If no solution to our problems was presented, to focus only on suffering would be demoralizing. When we achieve insight into reality, we can also see that it is possible for us to attain enlightenment. So, as a result of deep reflection we gain a sense of freedom.

“I struggle with this, but feel I am making progress. Chandrakirti says when you are able to gain deep insight into reality, compassion for suffering beings arises naturally. He states that on the two wings of insight and compassion we will soar to the further shore of enlightened liberation. I’m now in my late 80s, but I continue to practise and aspire to reach the path of preparation.”

His Holiness mentioned that the Tibetan tradition also includes tantra and meditation on deities, but he feels that what really has an impact on the mind is the cultivation of wisdom, insight into reality, and compassion for all beings. These are the practices that have most enabled him to transform his mind.

He revealed that because this was a gathering of followers of the Buddha, he had shared his own experience to show that if we take our Buddhist practice seriously, pursuing deep inquiry into reality and nurturing compassion, while also refining the practices of resting and analytical meditation, it will make a difference to our day-to-day lives. He advised that we can all aspire to higher levels of realization. Therefore, he urged his listeners to make the appropriate effort.

“Rituals are not important,” he continued. “What we need is the cultivation of resting and analytical meditation, an understanding of reality and the practice of compassion. These are the sort of teachings that come alive within you, therefore they’re worth the effort. “I can also assure you that paying attention to the courage of compassion enables you to transform adversity into opportunity.

“I was born in north-east Tibet and came to Lhasa where I studied the works of Buddhist masters who presented ways to develop wisdom and compassion. Their advice had a deep impact on me. Another factor that distinguishes Buddhism is the wide collection of means to effect inner transformation. It’s very rich in meditation practices that have an impact on our day-to-day conduct. Incorporating the Buddhadharma into our lives is a way of expressing gratitude to our teachers.”

His Holiness made a point of emphasising the importance of study and investigation. He revealed that the Buddha encouraged his followers not to accept what he taught on the basis of blind faith but to examine and investigate it well.

Finally, Shartsé Khensur Jangchub Chöden offered a vote of thanks to His Holiness for his eloquent and uplifting address. “You are an inspiration to many people on this planet, something that will continue into future generations. We need your advice and guidance—please live long.” He went on to thank Prof Robert Thurman and Sitagu Sayadaw for their contributions. He thanked the other guests on the daïs, as well as the other participants in the hall, for coming.

Before the meeting dispersed, and His Holiness left the Summit, he presented each of the Heads of Buddhist Delegations with a statue of the Buddha.

The two-day summit was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 20.

A declaration was adopted at the end of the summit on April 21 which sought focus on the need to address the burning challenges both within and globally and offer a sustainable model for future of the world. It also focused on need for environmental sustainability, need to free human race from conflict, peace, preservation and access to Buddhist pilgrimage sites.  

Over 170 delegates from foreign countries, including Mexico, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Japan, and 150 from India are participating in the conference. While the largest number of delegates are from Sri Lanka (20) and Vietnam (30), there are no participants from China.

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